Utahns overwhelmingly favor Salt Lake City hosting the 2002 Winter Games, believing the Olympics will boost the state's image and economy without harming the environment.

A Deseret News-KSL poll of 605 Utahns found that 73 percent favor hosting the Games, while only 21 percent are opposed. And a whopping 90 percent believe the Olympics would have a positive effect on the state's image.The strength of support that surfaced in last month's poll by Dan Jones & Associates surprised the state's Olympic boosters, especially since the bid has been out of the public eye for some time.

Dave Owen, a longtime critic of the Olympic bid, said he also was surprised by the poll results. "Of course, there's a sixth question that should have been asked and wasn't: `Are you willing to pay more taxes?' "

Salt Lake City bid unsuccessfully for the 1998 Winter Games, which were awarded to Nagano, Japan, two years ago, and the push for public support of the 2002 bid isn't set to begin until next year.

Bid supporters believe that's all the time it will take to whip Utahns back into an Olympic frenzy by June 1995, when the International Olympic Committee selects the site of the 2002 Winter Games.Randy Dryer, chairman of the Utah Sports Authority, said the state's nearly $59 million investment in winter sports facilities already has sold Utahns on the 2002 Winter Games.

"The fact that there is no Olympic fever right now . . . for the figures to be this high is pretty incredible," Dryer said. "Olympic support is now being fueled by the public's general approval of the facilities."

Predicting the support will grow even stronger, Dryer said once Utahns see the facilities they start thinking again about the possibility of hosting a Winter Games.

"The completion of some of these facilities is making the Olympics become a tangible, visible thing. People like what they see and that gets them excited about the Olympics," he said.

Already, the Utah Winter Sports Park in Bear Hollow near Park City is open to both first-time ski jumpers, including the very young, and world-class athletes.

Dryer said it is significant that 25 percent of the poll's respondents said the populace in general will benefit most from Salt Lake City hosting the Games.

The same number said winter sports enthusiasts and ski resorts would benefit the most and 26 percent said developers and contractors would. Just 3 percent said community and civic leaders would benefit the most. Fourteen percent answered that all of the above groups would share the Olympic wealth.

Tom Welch, head of the Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee, said the results show that Utahns still have the Olympic spirit.

"It's very encouraging at this point, where we're just starting to gear up our campaign, that (Utahns) have maintained their faith and trust and belief in the Olympic process and what it can do for our community," Welch said.

In a telephone interview from Puerto Rico, where he was attending the Caribbean Games, Welch said Utahns have been able to see several other cities successfully host Winter Games since voting to pursue the Olympics in 1989.

"We have seen a consistent and positive experience with the Games . . . which substantiate the ability of Utah to host the Games in a fiscally prudent manner," he said. "I believe that has helped create a comfort level."

Indeed, 79 percent of the Utahns polled said they believed hosting the Winters Games would have a positive effect on the state's economy. Just 16 percent said the impact would be negative.

And 24 percent said the Olympics would actually help the environment. Forty percent said the Winter Games would make no difference and 30 percent feared harm.

Because of concerns raised by environmental activists, bid supporters have already pledged to keep the competition out of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons.

Owen and other Olympic foes have predicted the Winter Games would lose rather than make money and taxpayers would have to pick up the bill. But even he admitted the bid hasn't been all bad.

"I'm not going to be a sourpuss and say it hasn't been good for Salt Lake. It has," Owen said. "There's no question this has been positive in terms of putting Salt Lake in the consciousness of the country in the Olympic context."

*****

(Poll)

Deseret News Poll

Would Salt Lake City hosting the Winter Olympics have a positive or negative effect on Utah's image?

Very positive 54%

Somewhat positive 36%

Neutral 4%

Somewhat Negative 3%

Very negative 1%

Don't know 3%

Poll conducted Oct. 5-6. Margin of eror plus or minus 4 percent. Sample size: 605 interviews. Conducted by Dan Jones & Associates